Misplaced and located: Chinatown, Pittsburgh

On Third Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh, China Town Inn, a red-and-green tower-style restaurant that has inherited Chinese culture in this city for three generations. It is owned by the Yee family and is the last remaining business in Pittsburgh’s original Chinatown.

For many people in Pittsburgh, Chinatown is still folklore for good reason. The once bustling small town that was home to so many Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century was destroyed by the construction of Allied Boulevard in the 1920s and the residents of Pittsburgh themselves. We were forced to leave the only place we felt at home. It was an act of redlining in the name of urban renewal, similar to what happened to the Pittsburgh black community in the Hill District in the 1950s.

And after several attempts by the Chinese National Asian Organization (OCA) in Pittsburgh, the former Chinatown of Pittsburgh only received the historic mark of the state from the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission this year.

“We finally made it in our fourth attempt,” said OCA President Marian Meyrin Lien in an interview with Incline. “That’s too many three attempts.”

Before the end of Asia-Pacific American Heritage Month, Incline wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate the status quo, the status quo, and the future of the historic Chinese community in Pittsburgh. Now you can take part in the discovery of this “lost” neighborhood OCA financing To finance a long postponed historical sign.

Chinatown Inn on Third Avenue, downtown. (📸: Wikimedia Commons).

Where was it?

In the late 1800s, just a few square feet from downtown (between Grant Street, Second Avenue, and Third Avenue, Ross Street) was a thriving city of shops, restaurants, and apartment buildings. And the region wasn’t the only one that served the Pittsburgh Chinese community. According to Lien, Chinese in West Virginia, New York, and Ohio often visit on Sundays.

“It was a place to eat dim sum, play mahjong, get community news and speak the language that makes us holistic,” added Lien.

According to Lien, many of the businesses they started were laundry and restaurants because they were the most accessible way to make a living. Residents also often opened herbal remedies, gift shops, and grocery markets, and gathered in a small park between Grant Street and Ross Street.

The community has really started to grow since 1872 when the Beaver Falls Cutlery Factory hired about 300 Chinese workers to break the strike. What does that mean? A labor dispute led to a strike by white workers, and the factory signed a contract with a minority for cheaper labor. This was an employment opportunity for Chinese immigrants, but it was also the exploitation of Chinese workers because there was no naturalization option and they could not join the union. This was seen in a similar way with the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Hundreds of people have died in explosions, accidents and diseases.

“When they decided to come here and join the American Dream, we went into a recession and pushback was against the most marginalized,” Lien said.

Because of the influx of industry, western Pennsylvania is Uniontown, and Lien said it would be great to have a systematic way of protecting workers, but those rights were only given to white workers.

“None of the Chinese workers who work in the cutlery factory stayed after the four-year contract,” said Lien. “Many of them went to Pittsburgh.”

A group of Chinese-Americans playing traditional Chinese musical instruments in the Chinatown neighborhood of Pittsburgh, China. Date: 1912. (📸: Detre Library & Archives in the Heinz History Center).

Who lived there?

In Chinatown, Pittsburgh, there were two fraternity associations, the Hip Sing Association and the On Leong Chinese Merchants Association, which served as informal community leaders. You could have violent conflict in cities across the country to acquire territory. Over time, the two organizations have mixed up.

It is said that there were 500 residents in the area in the 1920s, but Mr. Lien may not have been able to identify all of the residents in the census as many did not have the documents. I find it very sexual.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of residents were men, as many found jobs in the United States helping their families in their hometowns. By 1882, the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Law, which suspended Chinese immigrants for 10 years and excluded Chinese immigrants from naturalization. This prevented Chinese workers from bringing their families to the United States, and the Chinese were not yet entitled to naturalization. Abolition of the 1943 Act.

A group of Chinese-Americans next to an altar in the Chinatown neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Date: 1912. (📸: Detre Library & Archives in the Heinz History Center).

Of course, some of the women who lived in the neighborhood were sisters Anna Yee Ung and Ruth Yee. This 2017 story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ..

There were also a number of informal mayors in the neighborhood. William Hin Yot, Chairman of On Leong Chinese Merchants, was the “Mayor” for nearly 50 years. He served as someone who could communicate between Chinatown residents as well as white Pittsburgh residents. When he arrived in Pittsburgh, Yot was only 15 years old.

“He was always on hand when a Chinese man or woman was in trouble, not just downtown but in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Warren,” he said. Read in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Archives from November 15, 1960. [person] Arrested, Yot arrived with bail and a lawyer. When the family was poor, he saw that they were given food and shelter. “

The last mayor of Chinatown was Yuen Yi, who died in 2008. Obituary for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette He was six years old when his parents settled in an apartment on the second floor of Second Avenue. He worked as a laundromat, worked at the China Town Inn family restaurant, and joined the US Army Air Force as an interpreter. He often helped people in his community study for citizenship tests, prepare their taxes, and negotiate their rental contracts.

When both “mayors” died, Chinatown once did not know what it was for their community. According to Lien, the Ally’s Boulevard literally ran through the “center” of Chinatown on Second Avenue.

Find “lost” Chinatown

A remnant of Old Chinatown in downtown Pittsburgh. (📸: Wikimedia Commons).

When Marian Meyrin Lien came to Pittsburgh 10 years ago, she said the city had become something of a personal project for her.

“I love Pittsburgh, sometimes I think it doesn’t love me,” Lien said. “It’s a city with so many options. When some of the first Chinese found a home here in 1872 and Pittsburgh was open to it, it speaks of the possibilities. . “

Even so, the city that says “We welcome you” may not have a way to keep you here, Lien said. Even with a thriving Asian community in areas like Lishill and surrounding universities, Pittsburgh can do better.

“We don’t say that [we welcome you] To my family and the people who live with us, ”she said, speaking of many Asian Americans and islanders in the Pacific who call our city their hometown. “I want you to go beyond friendship. Even if you destroy the community to build a project, you don’t know I am part of it. “

With the rise in hate crimes against Asia, it was only a small step for Lien himself to experience the racial fraud firsthand and obtain this historical marker. Stand up for justice and honor those who paved the way for the entire Asia-Pacific community in Pittsburgh, even if their roots are hidden in the rubble.

In honor of Pittsburgh’s original Chinatown If you can help take on this legacy, you can donate to the Pittsburgh branch of a GoFundMe site for a Sino-US organization.

Learn more about other organizations that support the AAPI community in Pittsburgh, Read this article by Pittsburgh City Paper Writer Kimberly Rooney.

Along Franceska Daveco

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